GALLANT OSCAR finished fourth in the beginners' chase at Punchestown on Saturday.
It was almost certainly the best run of the seven-year-old's seven-race career. The stewards on duty, however, were not impressed and slapped jockey Roger Loughran with a seven-day ban, fined trainer Denis Quinn €2,000 and banned the horse from racing for 42 days. They decreed that Gallant Oscar hadn't been ridden to obtain its best possible position.
Gallant Oscar is a modest beast. In a Uttoxeter bumper and a Hereford maiden hurdle for Rebecca Curtis two seasons ago, he was beaten an aggregate 26 and a quarter lengths. Both were low-grade heats and, after racing keenly, Gallant Oscar's runs petered out tamely.
Then a five-year-old, he was repatriated by his owner Garrett Kelly, who hasn't had a winner on the track since his prolific home-bred Lotomore Lad obliged at Listowel in 2007.
On his return, Gallant Oscar displayed promise when placed in two point-to-points in autumn 2011.
That suggested he had strengthened up in the interim, but the in-running comments show that he continued to finish weakly.
He was then sidelined for most of a year before returning to contest four hurdle races last autumn, in which he was thrashed a total of 249 lengths, latterly breaking the 100-length barrier with a dismal effort in a Punchestown handicap off 95.
Against that background, then, Gallant Oscar rocked up on Saturday, an unconsidered 50/1 shot on his first chasing start.
Loughran settled him around mid-division and didn't harry him when he made fencing mistakes, before they kept on past beaten horses from three-out to grab fourth on the line. If anyone backed Gallant Oscar, they would have had few complaints.
The winner, Madam Bovary, was completing the full set of victories on her third chasing start, having won a 'point', a bumper and a maiden hurdle previously.
Toon River, the runner-up, was a maiden hurdle winner that twice finished second on recent forays over fences. Toostrong, the Willie Mullins-trained favourite, had won a bumper and hurdle.
Off level weights, Gallant Oscar got to within nine lengths of that trio, but if he had been given a nine-length head start he wouldn't have finished in front of any of them. He flashed home with a flourish because Loughran had conserved his energy early on, and you could certainly argue that the rider might have been seen to be more vigorous in the latter stages.
What exactly the trainer's contribution was in the stewards' inquiry is unknown, but we can only assume he expressed himself happy with the ride.
Loughran, who had never ridden the horse before, did something none of Gallant Oscar's seven previous riders had managed by getting him to finish strongly, and might have justifiably been applauded for doing so. As it was, the horse's belated burst probably took him by surprise, and the suspicion is that there was nothing more untoward to this incident than that.
Given that the horse obtained a finishing position that would have been inconceivable beforehand, the stewards' decision to condemn Loughran for failing to achieve the best possible decision is dubious enough.
The rider, who is considering appealing his ban, may have warranted an official caution to be seen to make more effort, but it's hard to see how the punishments handed out fit the alleged crime. He is a struggling rider whose main offence was to get a tune out of Gallant Oscar.
Sixmilebridge-based Quinn, who saddled his only jumps winner after 12 years of trying at Ballinrobe in July, is a small-time handler who will sorely miss €2,000.
On the evidence of other high profile cases in recent years, is it not high time that a more consistent standard of stewarding was applied across the board?
Lyons savours aroma of success – and coffee
Getting more carry-on luggage than is permissible on to a plane these days is something of an art form for passengers anxious to avoid delays on arrival, or the inconvenience of ending up in a different country to their luggage. Ger Lyons, though, has taken it to a new level.
The upwardly mobile Co Meath trainer is on tour in Dubai, and Lily's Angel got his foreign excursion off to a winning start on Thursday. One of the game's most sure-minded and often contrary characters, Lyons knows what he likes and wasn't willing to sacrifice the home comfort of his daily morning Nespresso. So he opted to pop the machine in his hand luggage.
"Needless to say he got stopped at security," his wife Lynn reveals on their website, "by the look on their faces it was probably a first!"
Those familiar with Lyons won't be surprised that he succeeded in his mission. Security knew not to come between him and his caffeine.
Binocular to take on Fly at Leopardstown
Hurricane Fly looks set to face at least one meaningful British challenger when he bids for a third victory in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle after AP McCoy confirmed that Binocular is likely to make his seasonal bow in the Leopardstown Grade One on January 27.
"I am really looking forward to riding him again. He has not run since last year's Champion Hurdle, when we finished fourth, but he is ready to go," the perennial champion said of the JP McManus-owned winner of the 2010 Cheltenham equivalent.
Should Binocular travel, it is unlikely that his fellow Nicky Henderson-trained Grandouet will, as the Lambourn handler has already stated that he intends to keep his two-mile contenders apart until March.
Binocular is 7/2 to deny the odds-on Hurricane Fly, which provided Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh with a famous triumph in the 2011 Prestbury Park showpiece. There was just a length between them when Hurricane Fly shaded third from Binocular in last year's Champion Hurdle.
It was confirmed over the weekend that McManus has bought the Jessica Harrington-trained Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Jezki, and the horse will go straight to Cheltenham without another run.
McManus is also believed to have acquired Charlie Longsdon's Pendra, runner-up to Melodic Rendezvous in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown. The gelding could try handicap company as Longsdon tries to weigh up his Cheltenham Festival options. "We might look at a handicap as he's rated 139, but what I will say is that he will keep improving," said the trainer.
Panther gets Fogarty back among winners
Mikey Fogarty rode his first track winner since November 2011 when Panther Claw took the Amateur National for the Conyngham Cup on at Punchestown on Saturday.
"I had my shoulder pinned last February and was out for six months and then had surgery on a disc in my back in October and only came back on St Stephen's Day," the respected rider reported after Paul Nolan's Gigginstown Stud-owned novice readily justified 11/4 favouritism. "This win means more to me than any other."
Willie Mullins' Diakali continued its preparation for the Triumph Hurdle with a bloodless odds-on rout under Paul Townend in the Grade Three novice hurdle. Robert Tyner's Way Up In The Air (3/1), a first-flight faller on her December hurdling bow at Cork, consigned Mullins' Champagne Agent to the runner-up spot for a seventh time in the maiden hurdle. The large chestnut mare took a keen hold under Davy Russell before galloping resolutely clear to continue her Kinsale handler's recent purple patch.
Dubliner Dunne on
the mark at Warwick
Garristown native Robbie Dunne enjoyed his biggest victory since joining Venetia Williams two seasons ago when driving Rigadin De Beauchene (5/1) to a hard-fought victory in the long-distance Grade Three Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday. The 3lb claimer has now ridden a dozen winners for the trainer, having previously struggled to make an impact here with 31 firsts spread across seven campaigns.
40 John Reddington's age. The London-based building contractor fulfilled a lifelong ambition when steering his own Charlie Swan-trained Agent James (16/1) to victory in the bumper at Navan yesterday.
@sirgerry29 – first time riding a favourite & Fakenham's been abandoned! Found something to cheer me up though ...
– Newbridge native Gerard Galligan was one of many jockeys ruing the fixture's cancellation on Twitter yesterday , many of whom doubtless found consolation in the McDonalds breakfast options that he posted in the accompanying photo.